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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

Carnegie Libraries in Ohio

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, August 24, 2008


It has been eight years since the library system acquired and cleared the property across S. 4th Street from the Main Library in downtown Steubenville.


In that time, the trees that were planted as part of the landscaping of that hillside have grown and provide a green outline to the Carnegie Building as seen from Route 7.


It is a sight that was never seen before as houses occupied the site even when the library was constructed in 1902.


Our Carnegie Library building was one of 103 public library buildings constructed in Ohio by Carnegie between 1899 and 1915.


Sandusky was the first, Ripley was the last, Steubenville was number 3.


There were also 8 academic libraries constructed in Ohio by Carnegie's funds, they have all been replaced but the buildings have been renovated for other purposes.


Of the 103 public libraries, 10 have been demolished, and 62 remain in operation as public libraries.


Others have gone on to a new life as government office buildings and private offices.


Some have been sold to private individuals.


One of the best books published on the subject is "Carnegie Libraries of Ohio: Our Cultural Heritage," by Mary Ellen Armentrout.


The author examines the story behind each of the 111 libraries in Ohio funded by Carnegie.


Each story if different and unique in its own way reflecting the community's needs.


Andrew Carnegie had started funding libraries in the 1890s, primarily in towns where his steel mills were located.


Sandusky, East Liverpool, and Steubenville each received a Carnegie Library in the early period.


In 1901, he sold his Carnegie Steel company to J.P. Morgan for $ 480 million.


The new company was called U.S. Steel and Carnegie was considered the richest man in the world at the time of the sale.


From that point until his death in 1919, Andrew Carnegie devoted himself to philanthropy giving away 80 percent of his wealth.


In his writings, he stated, "A man who dies rich dies disgraced."


Carnegie became personally involved in his early library donations, but by 1904 the process had passed to his personal secretary, James Bertram.


Many interesting letters passed between Bertram and communities desiring a Carnegie Library.


Bertram was insistent that buildings be of practical design, so the ones constructed after 1904 are far less ornate than prior buildings.


Cleveland was denied Carnegie funds at first, as he felt that John D. Rockefeller should be approached for a donation.


In the end, Carnegie funded 15 branch libraries throughout Cleveland.